Police in Myanmar’s northernmost Kachin state have increased security amid fighting by four ethnic militias that have joined forces to attack government targets in neighboring Shan state, leaving 10 dead and forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes.
On Tuesday, fighting flared up between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government army along the Mongkaung-Hpakant road, which stretches from Shan state to Kachin state, prompting police to increase security, said Lieutenant Colonel Myo Thura Naung of the state’s police force.
“We have warned our police to be very careful and remain alert about the security [situation],” he said.
On Sunday, the KIA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Arakan Army (AA) launched coordinated attacks on military outposts, police stations, and a trade center in Muse and Kutkai townships in northern Shan state.
Ten people have been killed near Muse, a town known for cross-border trade and smuggling, according to the office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been overseeing the peace process to end fighting between ethnic armed groups and the government military.
Thirty-three others have been injured in the clashes, her office said.
Some of the residents of Muse, which sits on the Shweli River across from Ruili in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, have fled over the border after hearing rumors about the clashes, local residents said.
All shops and homes in Muse had closed their doors on Tuesday morning, and the situation there was stable as of evening, residents said.
Muse resident Naw Bauk told RFA’s Myanmar Service that district administrators and township police officers advised community leaders not to worry as police beefed up security in the town.
“The town is silent because local residents are becoming afraid and fleeing,” he said. “No official announcement has been issued yet. Some people have warned others by shouting [in the Shan language] for them not to be concerned and to remain at home. But because the Burmese don’t understand the language, they are running and fleeing.”
Patrolling the roadways
The four militias on Monday released a joint statement requesting civilians in the area to take precautions, according to the Shan Herald Agency for News.
The statement also said that the Myanmar military had continued to attack ethnic armed groups, including those that signed a nationwide cease-fire accord with government in October 2015. The government excluded the AA, MNDAA, and TNLA from signing the agreement.
The same day the statement was issued, clashes occurred at Nangpatlun village between Kutkai and Muse, and armed groups stopped a car along the Kutkai-Muse road and detained the driver and passengers, according to locals.
In response, the government military has positioned security guards along the Lashio-Muse highway, they said.
Local residents also said the KIA, MNDAA and AA attacked the Muse police station, damaging shops in the vicinity though no one was injured.
Meanwhile, activities along the 105-mile trade zone southeast of Muse in Shan state’s Kutkai township have come to a standstill because of the clashes, and the militia groups have warned locals not to travel, residents said.
“The trade flow stopped for the entire day,” said Tun Oo, the general secretary of the Muse-Namhkam Trade Association.
Armed groups took car keys from every vehicle, said truck driver Sine Myint.
“Drivers who had extra keys drove away, but we had to sleep in the cab because we didn’t have an extra key,” he said. “Armed groups opened fire on us while we were sleeping and wounded my elder brother in the arm.”
Heading across the border
Those who fled from villages because of the hostilities are staying at monasteries in Muse, where there are now more than 2,600 internally displaced people, residents said.
About 3,000 others have fled to China to escape the fighting, where they are being provided with shelter and medical care, according to China’s foreign ministry. The country has put its security forces on high alert in response to the clashes.
Thaung Tun, who works for Garuna Free Funeral Service, said his firm was not only arranging funerals for those who have died, but also helping injured people and delivering food and medicine.
Hong Liang, China’s ambassador to Myanmar, on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire in the northern part of the country while attending the opening ceremony of the new Myanmar Chinese Cooperation & Communication Center and Chinese Enterprises Chamber in Myanmar Tuesday in Yangon.
Hong said China is very concerned about the conflicts and urges all parties involved to exercise restraint and take measures to reach an immediate ceasefire so that peace can be restored along the border area, according to an embassy news release.
He also said China supports Myanmar’s peace progress, and that the only path to real national reconciliation and long-term peace is through peaceful negotiations.
Tin Maung Htun, speaker of Yangon’s regional parliament, attended the opening ceremony along with dozens of representatives from Chinese and Myanmar enterprises.
Kachin and Shan states are hotbeds of illegal drug and smuggling activities where ethnic rebels have engaged in periodic hostilities with the Myanmar army during the last few years.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min, Thet Su Aung, Ye Htet, Kan Thar and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.